Hundreds of people gathered in Laramie earlier this month in memory of victims of Domestic Abuse. Since 1985 over 60 people have been killed in Wyoming in instances of domestic violence, and each year the Silent Witness Ceremony and March pays remembrance.
As a bagpipe plays at the head of a column of people, Sonny and Laurie Pulver hold wooden silhouette between the two of them as they march through the streets of Laramie.
“We’re carrying my husband’s sister’s silhouette. She was killed New Year’s Eve of 1999,” says Laurie.
“She was a wonderful little gal,” adds Sonny. “She spent a lot of time as a family member. She’s just a wonderful lady, miss her a bunch.”
The Wheatland couple has been coming to Wyoming’s Silent Witness March and Ceremony for years. Each year, life-sized silhouettes of the victims of domestic violence are carried through different communities in Wyoming to bring awareness to these crimes. And each year, the number of silhouettes grows.
This year three new silhouettes were inducted. After the march, family members remembered their final moments in a ceremony.
There was Crystal Town, of Cheyenne.
“He shot her 7 times with a 45-caliber pistol and killed her in front of her daughter,” says her mother.
Anna Davis, of Casper.
“Evil. That’s what I would call it. He shot her twice. Shot her in the back and then shot her in the head,” says Anna’s aunt.
Natalie Miller, of Casper.
Her mother says, “My world ended. I keep reliving the gunfire, her laying out on the porch, my screams.”
These family members say they had varying levels of knowledge of the abuse, but that it took a murder to show how bad it had gotten. Experts say that for the most part, it’s just as veiled to the general public.
Matt Gray is a psychologist at the University of Wyoming who has specialized in domestic and partner violence for the last 20 years. He points to the recent media attention around former NFL running-back Ray Rice, who was caught on tape knocking his then-fiancé unconscious. Gray says this has finally shed light on the issue.
“You never want to say there’s a silver lining to some really horrible things that have happened to victims, but finally this thing that people who work in the field have been aware of for years and years is starting to garner more attention in public spheres,” says Gray.
That attention, Gray says, should translate to better action on the public’s part.
“Domestic violence can and often does culminate in homicide. It actually is incumbent upon us when we become aware of these things to try to supportively intervene with survivors,” he says.
Some areas of the U.S. are making significant progress. Duluth, Minnesota’s programs are often pointed to as a model of effectively reducing domestic violence. Since 2011 the town has had zero domestic violence homicides. They have shifted from victim blaming to community accountability, actively assess individual’s risks, and hold counseling groups for abusive men.
“We also have a shared understanding of the violence,” says Melissa Scaia, the Executive Director of Duluth’s Domestic Abuse Intervention Program.
She says that shared understanding allows different government and local agencies to work together in what’s called coordinated community response. Advocates, counselors, police, parole officers, and judges communicate with each other about what to look for in domestic abuse. Scaia says without communication, justice agencies can run in circles.
“If you get any other criminal justice provider to say ‘yea you know I think the judge kind of gave it to you harsh, I think they kind of overreacted’. Basically undermine everything else that had already been done, that is not a coordinated community response.”
In Wyoming, there is not yet an equivalent of the Duluth Model. The homicide rate in Wyoming ranges from 1 to 6 or 7 murders in any given year. But there’s room for hope. Every Wyoming county does have some kind of domestic abuse safe house, and nationally, rates of domestic violence have fallen in the last 20 years.
At the end of the Silent Witness ceremony, the names of all Wyoming’s victims killed by domestic violence are read.
As Wyoming works towards eradicating domestic violence, the Silent Witness Ceremony at least makes sure no one will be forgotten.